I’m still trying to wrap my head around the results of the midterm elections. But one result I hope I’m seeing is the beginning of the end of “wedge issue” campaigns that get right-wing extremists elected.
Consider same-sex marriage. It’s true that seven of eight states passed same-sex marriage bans on Tuesday. However, these ballot initiatives — which in the past brought enough hard-Right voters out of the woodwork to swing elections — seem not to have impacted House or Senate races at all. Andrew Romano, Lee Hudson Teslik and Steve Tuttle write for Newsweek.com:
Three of those statesâ€”South Carolina, Idaho and South Dakota, all of which voted for bansâ€”were reliably Red, and no Republican candidates needed the boost. In Wisconsin (which voted 59 percent to 41 percent in favor), gay marriage had no bearing on the outcome: incumbents won across the board, with a Democrat, Steven Kagen, taking the only contested House race. A similar story played out in Colorado, which voted 56 percent to 44 percent for the ban: the lone Republican to win a key race was an incumbent. In Tennessee (80 percent to 20 percent in favor), the measure wasnâ€™t much of a wedge, despite a crucial Senate win for Republican Bob Corker. Both he and his Democratic opponent, Harold Ford, opposed gay marriage.
Another ban passed in Virginia, but it appears Virginians elected Jim Webb anyway. In the House, Virginia incumbents, mostly Republican, all won; no seats changed parties. Perhaps the ban impacted some close House races and kept the Webb-Allen contest closer than it might have been, and had a more liberal Democrat been running against Allen the wedge tactic might have worked. But you know what they say — woulda, shoulda, coulda.
And Arizona narrowly rejected a same-sex marriage ban. If “gay marriage” has lost its usefulness as a wedge issue, I predict the national Republican Party is going to be far less interested in it in the future.
Arizona also rejected a slate of immigration hard-liners in favor of candidates with more moderate positions on immigration. This is from an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times:
… voters in the state demanded a more nuanced and pragmatic solution than that being offered by the most virulently anti-illegal immigration candidates. The best illustrations came in the races for two House seats, one representing the sparsely populated border counties in southeastern Arizona and the other representing some upscale suburbs east of Phoenix. A six-term Republican incumbent, J.D. Hayworth, and a former Republican state representative, Randy Graf â€” both known for their firebrand stances on border security â€” lost to Democrats Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords, who had aligned themselves on immigration with McCain.
Make no mistake; Arizonans have not gone “soft” on immigration. The editorial says Arizona voters —
… overwhelming support Tuesday for ballot initiatives to deny bail, curtail subsidies for education and childcare, limit civil damage awards for illegal immigrants and make English the state’s official language. Voters backed all these proposals, reflecting a widespread belief that illegal immigrants impose a variety of burdens on taxpayers.
In the morning on voting day, two men — anti-immigrant crusader Russ Dove and his cameraman — showed up at precinct 49 in Tucson, at the Iglesia Bautista church, 4502 S. 12th St. Their plan: To harass and intimidate Spanish-speaking voters by using an “English-only” petition to screen for “illegal immigrants” trying to vote, videotape them, and post their likenesses on the Internet. Roy Warden also came, armed with a gun — as he usually does — and the trio started approaching a small number of people. MALDEF monitors were there, to observe the effect of Arizona’s new requirement for ID to vote, and observed the attempted intimidation tactics.
The trio left around noon to head to other polling places, then gave up after talking to only a few people. MALDEF reported this to the authorities, who are investigating; MALDEF has photographs of the men from when they were there.
MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) reports other intimidation tactics at the polls. Be sure to read all of David’s and Kynn Bartlett’s posts to get the full picture. (And may I say the thought of some extremist thug showing up at a polling place with a gun gives me the willies.)
In Missouri, the embryonic stem cell initiative worked as a wedge issue in Claire McCaskill’s favor. As the Newsweek.com article linked above says, “The issue divided Talentâ€™s Republican supporters, many of whom favor stem-cell research for its potential to boost a local economy increasingly reliant on biotechnology firms.” Since a big majority of Americans nationwide support federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, I believe the national Republican party will be very cautious with this issue going forward. (They should have known better than to cross Nancy Reagan.)
South Dakota voters handily defeated SD’s draconian abortion law, which banned all abortions with no exceptions for rape and incest and only the flimsiest thread of an exception for a woman’s health. In spite of this, SD’s whackjob Republican governor, who was behind the ban, was re-elected by a wide margin. Still-red SD also voted to ban same-sex marriage and rejected a medicinal marijuana initiative. The Fetus People vow to continue the fight in SD and re-introduce the abortion ban in the future. But the several other state legislatures considering similar bans may be having second thoughts. Meanwhile, Oregon and California voted no on proposed laws that would have required parental notification when minors seek abortions.
In California, voters dumped an anti-environment extremist incumbent. Michael Doyle reports for McClatchy newspapers:
The “Western rebellion” that propelled California Republican Rep. Richard Pombo to power now has receded, leaving many of its most important goals unmet and possibly beyond reach. …
… The Western rebellion, also known as the Sagebrush rebellion, involves people in the West who think that the federal government oversteps itself on property rights issues, especially regarding enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. They also chafe over the fact that half the West is owned by the federal government instead of privately.
Pombo’s surprisingly resounding loss to wind energy consultant Jerry McNerney, 53 percent to 47 percent, made the onetime rancher the only one of 19 Republican committee chairmen in the House of Representatives to go down in defeat Tuesday.
Of 13 lawmakers identified by the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” campaign, nine lost Tuesday. They included Rep. Charles Taylor of North Carolina, whose Democratic opponent, Heath Shuler, likewise benefited from the organization’s ads. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, another ad target, also lost.
Why electing a Democratic majority matters:
The probable new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. She’s one of the Senate’s most liberal members; the current chair, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, is among the most conservative.
The changing cast of characters will play out in many ways:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil-and-gas drilling perennially championed by House Republicans won’t go anywhere in the next Congress. Drilling off the coast of Florida or other states becomes a real long shot.
Other controversial ideas that Pombo once toyed with – such as selling 15 little-visited National Park Service sites, including playwright Eugene O’Neill’s home in the California city of Danville – are down for the count.
The Endangered Species Act, which Pombo built his career on combating, has a new lease on life. The Democrat who’s poised to become House Resources Committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, voted against Pombo’s Endangered Species Act legislation. The League of Conservation Voters gave Rahall a vote ranking of 92, compared with Pombo’s score of 17.
Take that, Naderites!
Minimum wage increases passed in all six states it appeared on the ballots. However, Tuesday was not a sweep for liberalism. Per the Newsweek.com story linked above, Michigan banned affirmative action. Initiatives in Colorado and Nevada that would have decriminalized private possession of small amounts of marijuana were defeated. But on the whole, Tuesday’s elections did more than turn the House and Senate over to the Dems. It also took the wind out of the extreme Right’s sails.
See also: The “Top Five Winners and Losers.” The article actually lists the top six winners and losers, but there’s plenty of winning and losing to go around this week.